MIAMI - Close your eyes, people.
This might be bad.
This might hurt.
The party is over for the Morgan Freeman Five, the Duct Tape Five, or whatever you want to call the ancient warriors who patrol the court for the Boston Celtics. The Tomato Cans from Atlanta and Philadelphia have been beaten. It’s now time for serious basketball and there will be green blood when this next round is over.
The Celtics Monday night take the floor of AmericanAirlines Arena for Game 1 of a best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals with the Miami Heat.
The Celtics earned their place in the NBA’s final four with a hard-fought 10-point Game 7 victory over the Sixers Saturday night at TD Garden, capping one of the more unwatchable series in NBA history. Commissioner David Stern should order tapes of those seven games burned. Boston-Philly was an unclassic of unimaginable dimension. I trust the experienced eye of our own Bob Ryan, and the Globe’s commish admitted that three times during that series he questioned if he was witnessing the worst playoff game he’d ever watched.
Now the Celtics play the Heat - the team we love to hate.
We can generate some good passion for this series. The Heat have true star power in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. LeBron has taken his rightful place as basketball’s Alex Rodriguez, a front-running poser who folds with the game on the line and cannot win a championship. (A-Rod finally got one in 2009, but the shoe still fits, no?) Meanwhile, poking fun at Miami’s little kid coach, Erik Spoelstra, remains a popular parlor game across NBA America.
With the league’s best two teams hailing from remote outposts in Oklahoma City and San Antonio, Stern is no doubt delighted to have Boston’s star power lining up against the South Beach Athletic Club. Too bad it won’t be close.
The Celtics traditionally play well against the Heat. They “match up’’ well against Miami, even when the Heat have Chris Bosh, who is probably going to remain sidelined with an abdominal strain.
But this series doesn’t bode well for Boston’s proud warriors. The ancient, broken-down Green Teamers are a good bet to get swept, or maybe steal one game and lose in five.
This is not 1969, when the fourth-place Celtics somehow summoned the strength to beat the mighty Los Angeles Lakers of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West in an epic seven-game Finals series. Those Celtics had Bill Russell and Sam Jones bursting balloons in the Forum in Game 7 on the final night of their respective careers.
Not in 2012. We’ve said it a dozen times over the last couple of years, but this really is the end for the Big Three assembled by Danny Ainge in the summer of 2007. Ray Allen is playing on bad ankles, limping to the end of his Celtics career. Kevin Garnett has enjoyed an astonishing AARP renaissance and routinely plays well against the Heat, but he, too, may be all done with the Celtics after this series. The Celtics are going to look very different when we first see them next fall. Captain Paul Pierce and classy coach Doc Rivers are bound to be back, but the core of the old gang is breaking up soon.
Theoretically, the Celtics have a chance to win banner No. 18 this spring. Rajon Rondo is capable of taking over any game and the Heat have no answer for Boston’s electric guard. Pierce and Garnett still can play championship ball in short bursts.
But the Celtics have no chance in this series because they are hobbled, they have no depth, they don’t rebound, and Philly took too much out of them.
The team with the top stars generally wins every NBA playoff series. When Boston played Philadelphia, the Celtics had the three best players on the court. When the Celtics play the Heat, Miami has the two best players on the court.
It’s not about shutting down Andre Iguodala anymore.
Poke fun at LeBron if you want. He’s an easy target. But he is hands-down the best player in the NBA and the Celtics have no answer for him. If you could push LeBron into a seventh game in Boston, he might choke, but he is impossible to stop when things are going well, and things are likely to go very well for James in this series (try to remember that James’s marketing ventures are managed by Fenway Sports Group, which means that any Heat victory over the Celtics represents a good day for John Henry and friends over on Yawkey Way).
If King LeBron doesn’t kill the Celtics, Wade surely will. He was embarrassed by the Pacers early in Miami’s second-round series, but he came back with a vengeance. Unlike James, he knows what it takes to win an NBA championship.
With the Red Sox staggering to get over that elusive .500 mark, and the Bruins checking out of the playoffs in the first round, the Celtics have been our feel-good sports story of the spring. They have been the embodiment of grit, guts, and team above self.
But this is where it ends.